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Take Two

Dedh Ishqiya duo director Abhishek Chaubey and leading lady Huma Qureshi in conversation with team Box Office India

Box Office India (BOI): The second trailer of Dedh Ishqiya was launched recently. With just a month to go before the film’s release, tell us how the trailer was received by the audience.

Abhishek Chaubey (AC): The response was fantastic! The first trailer was meant to be only a teaser and the second was meant to reveal a little more about the story. I am very happy that the response to both trailers has been terrific. In fact, the trailers have addressed a different kind of audience altogether.

BOI: A different kind of audience?

AC: Across all strata of society, the masses and the classes, whatever the jargon is. We hope to increase the audience base. And the response has been terrific on all those fronts. I am really pleased with the way the promotions are going, the trailers and the two songs.

BOI: How about you, Huma?

Huma Qureshi (HQ): The response has been brilliant and this film is very different from the first. Everyone has told me it’s great.

BOI: The trailer of Ishqiya created a noise with the Censors due to the film’s explicit content and dialogue. Were there any apprehensions about the sequel?

AC: Making movies and releasing them is nerve-wracking. So I have apprehensions all the time. However, this time, I don’t really have any apprehensions. Cutting a trailer is a creative process. If the trailer works with you, rest assured it will work with a large number of people. This time, in addition, we cut a teaser which didn’t say very much about the film. It simply introduced the characters and was like a joke. We received a terrific response to the teaser but it was time for us to reveal some more about the plot.

The second trailer was exactly that. I was reasonably confident of what people would think. I had tried to steer clear of the trappings of a typical Ishqiya franchise… things like using bad words in the film. There is more to this film than people spouting gaalis. But then there ARE quite a few gaalis in the film. (Laughs)

HQ: Rest assured! (Laughs)

AC: Yes, we are not going to disappoint our core audience. But the film is much more than that.

BOI: How did you come up with the idea of a sequel?

AC: I did not come up with the idea. It was Shemaroo and Vishal saab (Vishal Bhardwaj) who insisted that I make a sequel. I did not have a story in mind. So I told them I couldn’t make a sequel. Vishal suggested that we get a writer who could do this and asked me if I would still be interested in making the film. I said, yes. I had this friend called Darab Farooqui who had a basic idea for the sequel and we liked it. Thereafter, Vishal saab and I worked on the script. I decided to direct the film almost a year later. Until then, I was not very sure if I wanted to do this film at all.

BOI: Ishqiya ended with the three lead characters walking towards the horizon. Why were you not convinced about the sequel? You could have fleshed out Vidya Balan’s character in the sequel.

AC: With Vidya’s character, we created an air of mystery in the original film. In the first half, the audience doesn’t know exactly what she is doing and why she is doing it The film then goes on to explain her story. So her story is complete. If I were to bring her back and make Khalujaan and Babbar join her in another adventure, I wouldn’t be able to justify her presence. I figured the only way to make the audience look forward to the film was to throw these two men into another situation and have another adventure take shape through their eyes. But we decided to have not one but two women.

BOI: One for each!

AC: (Laughs) Yes.

BOI: Huma, the first film had a strong lead performance and it did very well. Was there any pressure on you in the sequel, in terms of performance?

HQ: No, the burden was squarely on the director but I was very excited. When the first film released in 2010, I didn’t even know that I wanted to be an actress. All I remember is watching the film with my friends and I loved it. To play a character like Munira was a lot of fun because she is quite crazy. When I read the script, I loved it and was excited to play a character that was not stereotypical. Of course, I knew that Ishqiya is synonymous with Vidya, and this one also has Madhuri Dixit. But I don’t think any of the actors had any reason to let go of such a good role.

BOI: Huma, was this role easier for you since the character is rustic and the movie was set against a rustic backdrop like Gangs Of Wasseypur?

HQ: For Gangs…, I didn’t have any precedent for that character. I am from Delhi and have had a pretty cosmopolitan upbringing. So yes, of course, Munira was easy for me to relate to. Also because it is a Muslim character, and I am a Muslim too and have grown up in that world. But she is quite different so I don’t know if it was easy or not.

BOI: Huma, this is your second outing under the Vishal Bhardwaj banner. What’s it been like?

HQ: It’s been great. He’s a great creative person to work with and I have always wanted to work with him.

BOI: Were you upset when he decided to produce films where he did not cast you.

HQ: (Laughs) You guys are so brutally candid! Upset? No, not at all. I’m sure he will cast me when he has a role that is apt for me.

BOI: Abhishek, are audience expectations high with Dedh Ishqiya?

AC: Yes, expectations are high and that’s the burden that comes with making a sequel. You will inevitably be compared to your previous film. Every director is always compared with their previous films, especially for a sequel. It’s an occupational hazard and I take it with a pinch of salt. The thing is, there are cosmetic and thematic similarities with Ishqiya, ki yaar ishq ke bare mein baat ho rahi hai. There is crime and there are thrilling moments too but these two films are essentially very different, in what they are trying to say as well as the way they are paced. Dedh Ishqiya is a much more entertaining and exciting film than the first one, which was entertaining enough.

BOI: How easy or difficult was it to convince Madhuri Dixit to do the film? She will be seen in a full-fledged role after a long time.

AC: We created the character Begum Para when still conceptualising the film. We needed someone who was beautiful, who knew Kathak, and who was sensual, sexy and mysterious. So it was an obvious choice. Luckily enough, she told Vishal that she had enjoyed watching Ishqiya. The script wasn’t yet ready but we told her we were doing something like this and asked her if she would be interested. In principle, she said yes.

When I met her a few months later with the basic outline of the story, she said, ‘I am doing this film.’ That was very encouraging for us. Imagine not having the dialogue and script ready but your protagonist says ‘I am on!’ More than Vishal saab or Shemaroo, it was Naseer saab and Arshad who insisted on making a sequel. So to answer your question, it wasn’t very difficult getting Madhuriji on board. It was a joy working with her.

BOI: Why did you choose Huma for the character she plays?

AC: Like most directors, I am paranoid about casting. Naseer saab and Arshad’s characters were already defined and Madhuriji came on board very early. The other two important characters are Muniya’s character played by Huma and Jaan Mohammad’s character played by Vijay Raaz. It took me a while to decide whom to cast for these characters.

I was already working with Huma in Ek Thi Daayan and we got to know each other then. So she was always on my casting list. Muniya is not an easy character to play. I did tests with a few other actresses but Huma just took it away. She was simply brilliant in that audition. I signed her, what, just a month before we started shooting the film.

HQ: And I was, like, chalo koi baat nahi.

AC: And then we had a very long phone call when I called her to say she was on board. But she assumed I was explaining why I hadn’t signed her and that I would end up saying, ‘Agli baar pakka saath mein kaam karenge.’

HQ: I had assumed that because we were friends, he didn’t want to break my heart and was trying to break it nicely. He was, like, ‘You were very good but…’ (Laughs)

AC: I never doubted that she could do the role because she had it down pat during the test. She was not exactly what I was looking for but she was more than that as she added her own personality to Munira’s character.

BOI: Huma, we have never seen you dancing on screen but in Dedh Ishqiya, you have done some Kathak steps, that too with Madhuri Dixit…

HQ: (Cuts in) Oh, yes! They made me dance with Madhuri Dixit! But it was only a little. I was really scared because they were making me dance with Madhuriji, that too Kathak. I know to dance a little but if I dance with Madhuriji, no one will ever give me any dance songs to do! But the song Hamari atariya pe was shot really well. It’s a finale song and I come in at the end, during the jugalbandhi.

BOI: You established yourself as an actor with your very first release. After that, you have always played character roles unlike your contemporaries, who are doing solo masala films. Is that deliberate?

HQ: I don’t know, really. I choose the best of what is offered to me. I don’t look at films in terms of whether they are commercial, off-beat or indie. It’s either a good part or a bad part. To my mind, it is either a good character or a bad character. Obviously, a good character always excites me. Also, I prefer to work with people I generally like or people I connect with easily. I have never been slotted. In the last year alone, I had played everything, from a witch to an agent. I enjoy everything that comes my way.

BOI: What was it like working with legends like Naseeruddin Shah and Madhuri Dixit?

HQ: Yaa, toh meri kismat bahut achcha hai yaa bahut kharab hai. Kharab issliye because when you are acting with legends, you’re barely noticed. I was actually quite scared of Naseer saab because I didn’t want to go wrong. And there are a lot of Urdu words in our film. I didn’t want to mispronounce them and offend him. But he was quite a lot of fun to work with. And with Madhuriji, it was so much fun because we hit it off at the very reading. They never made me feel like I was new or inexperienced.

BOI: And Arshad Warsi?

HQ: Arshad is super fun. I think he can share chemistry with a chair, if he needed to! He doesn’t need a heroine. Abhishek likes to shoot in the remotest and dirtiest locations, places that others have not explored. He finds beauty in these places too and captures it in an interesting way. So we were shooting in a remote place and the temperature was 48 degrees. But Arshad entertained us so well that we didn’t really feel the heat!

BOI: Was it a difficult shoot?

AC: It was tough because of the principal location, which was 60 kms from Lucknow and we were staying in Lucknow. So we had a two-hour drive every morning and on our way back. That’s a four-hour drive every day. Imagine Huma’s plight.

HQ: And the roads were very bad.

AC: The last 30 kms were terrible.

HQ: It was like a camel ride.

AC: Yes, and you couldn’t even take a nap on your way back or while going to the sets because of the roads. So, in that sense, it was tough because we spent so much time in travelling. We were also shooting in the middle of nowhere and the closest city was 21 kms away.

BOI: You have had a long association with Vishal Bhardwaj…

AC: (Cuts in) I have spoken about it so much that you can write a book on it! It’s the longest and one of the important associations I have had with anybody. Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya are as much my film as they are his. We conceived them together and lived them together. I was fresh out of college when I came to Mumbai from Delhi. I didn’t know anyone here and I didn’t know anything about movie-making. I met him in the first two to three years of my career. He was making a film and I was just 23 years old. After that, there’s been no looking back.

BOI: He draws his inspiration from a lot of authors like Shakespeare and Ruskin Bond. Since you are also a writer, from where do you draw your inspiration?

AC: From Mastram, I think (Laughs). No but on a serious note, Vishal saab reads a lot of literature and he has a contemporary take on things like Shakespeare. I am still evolving as a filmmaker. I really wanted to do Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya because they were original stories. Original stories have their own kick and punch to create new characters. When you get an idea, it’s nebulous; it’s just forming. Five years later, not only have I created these characters but they are iconic in the film.

BOI: After Ishqiya, you must have got many offers from other producers and studios.

AC: (Cuts in) Which I declined.

BOI: Why? Do you want to continue working with Vishal Bhardwaj?

AC: Like I said, it is an important association for me and I wouldn’t mind making all my films with him. So, yes, I would like to continue doing what I am doing. It works for me. I get my creative freedom, creative liberty and my creative space. And I have a great partner to conceive and write with.

BOI: Have you both ever had any differences even though you have similar sensibilities?

AC: Yes, we have differences of opinion all the time about executing scenes etc. Ultimately, it’s the director’s call. So, likewise, in this film, a few days ago, we were watching the final edit for the last time and he said, ‘Mujhe aisa lagta hai ye scene aisa hona chahiye.’ I said, no I believe it should have been exactly like this.’ We understand the difference of opinion.

BOI: Both of you experienced success with your very first films?

HQ: Yes. We sometimes chat over coffee that humne bada accha kaam kiya hai (Laughs). But I can only speak for myself. I think in the past year, I have received a lot of love and appreciation but I need to continue to work hard and not become complacent.

AC: I’ve lived in Mumbai for 16 years. So it’s not like I found success right from the word go. I’ve been working in the industry since 2000. I was assisting. Then Omkara came along. It has been a long journey and I have learnt something new with every film.

BOI: When Ishqiya released, the industry had not been exposed to films like Ishqiya, Vicky Donor and Kahaani. Do you think the industry has since evolved?

AC: It is very different from the first one. So I think the space the film is in, is something that you have not yet seen. You’ve got glimpses of it but not from the perspective we have. Like Omkara… Before Omkara released, there was nothing like it; it was a new world and it became a reference point whether people liked it or not. Even super-successful films like Dabangg referenced a film like Omkara. Likewise, with Dedh Ishqiya, it is a completely new world, and superficially speaking, the way they walk, speak and wear their clothes… but at the core of the film, it is a very new world. I am not concerned with the novelty of it.

BOI: Huma, is there any other role you would like to portray and any directors on your wishlist?

HQ: All kind of roles. I’ve done just four to five films and, of course, there are so many roles I would love to do. And, as far as directors go, you guys keep telling me to do films that are more commercial. So probably one of the commercial directors. It would be tragic if I played the same character all my life. I want to do characters that are outside my comfort zone and that would make me work harder. Whether it is a genre or a director or a story, I always look for something I have not done before.

BOI: So how do you choose your roles?

HQ: When you read a script, you instantly know whether you connect with it or not. It’s just one of those things; there’s no formula. You ask yourself, is it exciting or is it something I have not done before or possibly have not seen before? I always look at the script as the audience would. It could be anything, superficially speaking, it could be the genre. For example, Ek Thi Daayan was a genre that is not attempted very often and I was very inquisitive about the character, a witch. I mean, who gets to play a witch today? But Dedh Ishqiya was a different cup of tea. It was very exciting to see where I fit in that world. I also think you grow with each film. I don’t know what I am going to do next but I know I will use the experiences I had with this film in other films as well.

BOI: Abhishek, what are your upcoming projects?

AC: I have just about started writing so it is very early to talk about that. But I will definitely start this film in 2014. I need to improve my strike rate, with one film a year.

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